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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

FARMING THE PAST Wendell Berry, The landscape of harmony (Five Seasons Press: Shenmore, Madley, Hereford HR29NZ) £5.40 pb

The aim of this neat little book (in all eighty pages slightly smaller than A5) is to bring to notice the various writings of a Kentucky hill-farmer. They have already attracted attention in America and seem likely to meet with interest in Europe.

Wendell Berry's first book of poems, The broken ground (1964), was republished in London (Cape, 1966) but his later and longer works have remained little known here. A checklist shows nine other poetry books, three novels, one collection of stories and ten volumes of essays.

The writings are introduced in the present booklet by Michael Hamburger, who emphasizes that they all hang together: "in everything [Berry] writes he draws on the totality of his experience". That experience is of farming at a time when its methods were being ruthlessly mechanized and the values of its communal life rapidly destroyed.

Berry does more than recall the merits of an irrecoverable past. Observing the causes of their disappearance he arrives at a view of man's place in nature involving absolute dependence, inescapable self-interest, obligatory stewardship, local variability and continuous self-criticism. A pragmatic outlook enables him to oppose inimical forces with a calm reasonableness all the more persuasive for being undogmatic. According to Hamburger it also gives a sober realism to his novels and a plain strength to his poetry.

Instead of following Hamburger's introduction with examples of Berry's poetry and fiction the booklet carries two examples of his social criticism. ...


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